Risks and Rewards of Cloud Computing in the UK Public Sector

By | May 5, 2017

Government organisations have been shifting to cloud-based services in order to reduce their total investments in IT infrastructures and resources (e.g. data centers), as well as capitalise on cloud computing’s numerous rewards. However, just like any other technology investments there are also concerns over the potential risks of implementing cloud-based technologies. Such concerns and the paucity of scholarly literature focusing on cloud computing from a governmental context confirm the need for exploratory research and to draw lessons for government authorities and others in order to ensure a reduction in costly mistakes.

This paper investigates the implementation of cloud computing in both a practical setting and from an organisational user perspective via three UK local government authorities. Through the qualitative case study enquiries, the authors are able to extrapolate perceived rewards and risks factors which are mapped against the literature so that emergent factors can be identified. All three cloud deployments resulted in varying outcomes which included key rewards such as improved information management, flexibility of work practices and also posed risks such as loss of control and lack of data ownership to the organisations. These findings derived from the aggregated organisational user perspectives will be of benefit to both academics and practitioners engaged in cloud computing research and its strategic implementation in the public sector.

Cloud computing is considered to be the latest evolution of the internet (Sabi et al. 2017; European Commission 2014). It is an emerging paradigm of computing that allows for delivering information technology (IT) resources and services through a network, usually the Internet (Krishnaswamy and Sundarraj 2015; Bhattacherjee and Park 2014). Primarily, the cloud consists of the provision of information systems (IS) and the whole range of IT infrastructure, such as servers, file storage, email, telephones, personal computers and laptops, over the internet, instead of being hosted locally and on site by an organisation. Cloud computing elements have been around for some time, with companies such as Google offering certain aspects of cloud, such as email. However, in recent years the cloud solution has developed and matured to offer the full range of IT services (Panda et al. 2017). According to a report by Forrester Research, the global public cloud market is expected to reach $191 billion by 2020, growing significantly from 2013’s market size of $58 billion (Columbus 2014). Furthermore, the European Commission (EC) considers that the public services and administration are being transformed increasingly by the evolution of technologies such as cloud computing that encompass distinguishing technical and commercial features (ENISA 2015; Pillay 2014; Fishenden and Thompson 2013). Thus, signifying the importance that governments worldwide are recognising cloud computing as an enabler of digital government services, from platforms that manage citizen requests and transactions to those that handle massive data sets. This highlights the sheer importance that many organisations and IT executives place on these technologies and helps underpin research in this area.

Public sector organisations have traditionally delivered and hosted IT systems locally. The United Kingdom (UK) government similar to other countries such as the United States (US), Australia and other European countries have called for public sector organisations to strategically embrace cloud computing to reap its benefits (Mendoza 2014; Kundra 2011; Cabinet Office 2011a). The UK national government has made particular reference to the Government Cloud (G-Cloud) where the architects of this UK government strategy have predicted that significant savings of approximately £3.2bn can be made by switching to this initiative (Kepes 2015; Cabinet Office 2011a). The reason for this is that G-Cloud is seen as a shared service, with resultant shared costs, which would lead to reduced individual costs for each organisation and create a level playing field for suppliers who wanted access to Government contracts (Donnelly 2015). There is also increasing recognition that efficiencies and shared risks and rewards will come from common information technology systems and business processes in the public sector (Khanagha et al. 2013; Simpson 2011). It has also been asserted that the G-Cloud will improve IT resilience, deliver more agile IT responses to changing business requirements and enable organisations to become more innovative (Cabinet Office 2011a). However, there are also concerns over the potential risks of cloud computing and the main obstacles considered impeding its adoption are standards, certification, data protection, interoperability, lock-in, and legal certainty (Burton 2015; ENISA 2015). Such issues emphasise the need to explore this area and to pass on useful observations to others.

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About Zahir Irani

Professor Zahir Irani joined the University of Bradford as Dean of the Faculty of Management and Law in December 2016. Professor Irani has held several senior management positions at Brunel University London, the most recent of which being the Dean of College (Business, Arts and Social Sciences - CBASS) which he set up following an organisational restructuring from eight schools into three colleges. Prior to this role, he was seconded full-time to Whitehall, where he was a Senior Policy Advisor at the Cabinet Office during part of the coalition Government. He is however most proud of being Head of the Brunel Business School, which in 2013 was awarded the Times Higher Education Business School of the Year under his leadership. He completed a BEng (Hons) at Salford University before then accepting a research position in industry where he finished his Master’s degree by research. He has a PhD in the area of investment evaluation and undertook his leadership development at the Harvard Business School. He has an extensive list of 3 and 4 star publications in the area of information systems, Project Management and eGovernment, and significant grant income from national and international funding councils.